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Game Theory in Competitive Bodybuilding

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In the article ‘The Incidence of Anabolic Steroid Use Among Competitive Bodybuilders’, it is mentioned that a very important motivating factor for competitive bodybuilders to use steroids is that significant gains in strength can be achieved by including steroids as part of the training regimen. In a world where no bodybuilders use steroids, Nash equilibrium can’t be reached. In fact, most professional bodybuilders use ridiculous amounts of anabolic steroids, even if the drugs cause irreversible damages to their bodies. Why does everyone keep using steroids even if they know they are bad? This can be illustrated with the following graph:

Consider an extremely simplified bodybuilding competition, with only two participants, bodybuilder 1 and bodybuilder 2. ‘Steroids’ indicates the case that the bodybuilder uses steroids, and ‘Natural’ indicates the case that the bodybuilder doesn’t use any performance enhancement drugs. Now, if both bodybuilders decide to be healthy and lawful and not use any steroids, they get to compete with each other happily without doing any damage to their bodies. In the diagram, this is represented with ‘5,5’, meaning that they get to compete in a fair competition and that gives them each 5 units of satisfaction. Sadly, notice that this is not a Nash equilibrium. ‘Natural’ is not the best response to ‘Natural’. If Bodybuilder 1 suddenly decides that he is going to take growth hormone and get huge in a short amount of time while Bodybuilder 2 is still only eating chicken and pasta, he’s going to win the 2-person competition very easily. Now the situation will be shifted to ’10, 0′. Bodybuilder 1 gets 13 units of satisfaction because he won the competition and became the center of attention, but he loses 3 units of satisfaction because his kidneys are all screwed up from the drugs he took. Bodybuilder gets 0 satisfaction because he lost. However, this is still not a Nash equilibrium, since the responses are still not the best responses to each other. In fact, the Nash equilibrium is reached when both bodybuilders decide to start taking illegal drugs. They still each gets 5 units of satisfaction out of the competition, but each loses 3 units because the steroids have deteriorate their health so much. This is the Nash equilibrium in this game (‘2,2’) and taking steroids is the dominant strategy. Using steroids is the best response no matter what the other person does.

In conclusion, natural bodybuilding can’t be mainstream, even if that would be the best for everyone. All players are tempted to improve their situations by taking steroids and therefore hurting everyone. Even if all players using steroids is not the best case scenario, it is the Nash equilibrium in the game of competitive bodybuilding.


John Fannister


7 Responses to “ Game Theory in Competitive Bodybuilding ”

  • Darren

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of Nash equilibrium being applied to the world of bodybuilding. I’m assuming this same type of equilibrium applies to steroid use in other sports as well. It’s a major issue today and steroid testing is so ineffective due to the problem of reconciling Type I and Type II errors. To me, it seems the real question, is what possible options are there to shift the Nash equilibrium in competitive sports?

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  • Damien

    Very interesting info! Thanks!

  • sonia sharma

    Although to take exercises, taking nutritious food is also helpful to gain a fit & fine body. Your personal fitness trainer & health consultant’s advice is also helpful to take. Besides this one site can also be helpful –

  • TestX Core

    In the world of bodybuilding, having a great physique is one factor to win.No wonder that most competitors used steroids in their body. This article is really an eye opener to us. Hoping that you can help to make a change in this field.

  • Katie

    Its sad that Body Builders use these harmful steroids to get muscles and harm their bodies in the process. They should use healthy supplements instead. Ones that don’t have side effects. I know there are healthier types of supplements that help in building muscle.

  • NO Max Shred

    You made me understand better about bodybuilding and how it works in a competition. There are certain factors to consider and there are also details that must not be taken for granted especially by those competitors. Thanks for sharing this one.

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